Why is the Universe just right for life?
and.... Are we Alone?
Latest December 6th 2010

FEBRUARY 18th 2008
I hope Paul Davies will not mind me taking the title of his latest book* as the title of this file and indeed of the subject here to be discussed. It is a very apt expression and he has chosen it to describe an issue which has puzzled a great many people. It could have a further subtitle: "Why is the planet Earth so exaclty right for advanced, intelligent life, protected and and advantaged by a number of extraordinary apparent coincidences?" *[Now no longer his latest book. We have The Eerie Silence which, I gather from the review, deals with a lot of what I rabbit on about here. We are increasingly indebted to Prof Davies. See entries below in March 2010]

It is an enigma that I have studied myself to over many years, come to a conclusion, and been waiting for the moment when it seemed that the general public might be ready for the solution. For indeed there is one, and it opens the door to a very wide future. But until a sufficient number of people have understood the question properly there has been little hope of them appreciating the answer. The current problems we are facing in politics, economics, religion and planetary management mean that the time has come.

Davies himself has been working towards it over the years but even in The Goldilocks Enigma, which I admit I have not yet read a single word of, I am told he has not yet rung the required bells or even committed himself to a clear explanation. Davies has approached the problem from a mathematical and cosmological perspective, using what we have learned in the realms of physics, chemistry and mathematics. This concentrates on extraordinary apparent coincidences in the laws of physics that make the life-supporting material universe, never mind our planet, possible. Others have taken the extraodinary properties of Earth as the equal or greater mystery. Yet others have used the Darwinian evolutionary principle to argue that life 'not-necessarily-as-we-know-it' is not so surprising. Yet others mix religion and science in a theory of 'Intelligent Design'.

The purpose of this file is to try to get over a perfectly rational explanation that satisfies science and philosophy and most people (excluding religious fundamentalists who are committed to a set of doctrines), while not accepting any of the currently proposed solutions, even though I shall use the evidence and many of the arguments and reasoning within the unsatisfactory theories that compete for general acceptance.

Before we start, you may need a few references.

A commentary on Paul Davies' book

The "Rare Earth Hypothesis"

The "Anthropic Principle" - with important variants

Regression toward the mean

I am not going to start this exposition with a discussion of the universe as a whole, we can come back to that later. I am going to start with the planet Earth as recently made the subject of the excellent TV series Earth: The Power of the Planet, by Dr Iain Stewart. He finished the series with a hint that he was drawn towards the Rare Earth Theory. The number of coincidences that make our earth suitable for intelligent human life are so many and so precise that he found the chances of them all happening frequently even in a universe of 100 billion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars, to be so unlikely that there might be only one such planet in a galaxy or even in all galaxies.

I aim to show that the most reasonable theory is what I shall call the "Not quite so Rare Earth Theory". It is based on the probability that all the particular propertiesof our planet are related in origin, in such a way that instead of the odds against them all occuring together being higher the greater they are in number, the reverse is true as they are sequentially brought into being. I formulated 'Not-Quite-So-Rare-Earth Theory' in the 1980s based on studies I made from 1946 onward. All scientific observations since and the writngs of other scientists have strengthened my feeling that it is valid. The discovery in the '70s of the science of fractals and my personal late understanding of the geometric origins of the fibonnaci sequence and other mathematical self-ordering properties of nature have added to the rationality of this approach.(this italic section added later).
To make this explanation as simple as possible, I am going to start by taking just three characteristics of Planet Earth that are agreed to be:essential for life as we know it to have developed and continue to advance

1. A suitable gravitational value, "g" as we know it, depending (once the material mix is set, on the exact size of a planet)
2. A suitable core and surface.
3. A suitable orbit and distance from a single 'sun' in the local ecosphere.
4. A moon of suitable mass and proximity

I will maintain that the material that collects in any 3 above, round a sun of our type, will have a 2 that will correspond and a 1 that is not accidental. Following that, I shall maintain that the final assembly from two proto-planets rather than a single protoplanet that slowly picks up all the nearby debris, is not an accident but a reaonable probability. The outcome of that final assembly is quite likely to result in the fragments thrown out to collect in a moon that various forces will drive autmatically to the appropriate distance. None of the above is inevitable, but neither is it in any way an improbable accident. Furthermore, the effect of compatible results in any stage causes subsequent stages to become more and more likely and ever more precise. At any inter mediate stage however a catastrophic failure may occur. I which case it will be elsewhere, in another solar system, that a suitable planet has to be sought. There are recent suggestions that in the formation of the planetary arrangement in our solar system that the biger planets were once much nearer the sun, and that when their orbits interfered gravitationaly as they were bound to do there was a catastrophic rearrangement, leaving earth where it now is as the recipeint of huge quantities of water form comets sent hurtling from the Oort Cloud as smaller planet were sent crashing through it. I have no problem with that as a possibility, it in no way alters the progression of probablity even though it elaborates it.(this italic section added later)

The overall result will be that once a solar system starts in exactly the same way ours did, the outcome can be described by a well known word: typical. That does not mean typical in the way we would apply that word in other matters, but has to be viewed in the context of the huge number of solar systems.

The conclusion will be that since suns exaclty like our own are not extraordinarily improbable, and since our galaxy and the universe are extremely large, a planet like our Earth is not extraodinarily rare and a planet on the way to becoming an 'earth equivalent' is more and more likely to complete the process once started, rather than less and less likely to pile accident on accident as even the estimable Dr Iain Stewart has suggested

There is much more to be discussed after than and we can, if I have time, go back to the Big Bang and the abstract principles of geometry that are beyond even the physics of material existence. Those who wan't the entire explanation of the Goldilocks Enigma will have to wait for that. But by understanding the solving of the enigma for Planet Earth they will have the key to part of the solution as it applies to the Universe. The other part is linked to the nature of space-time. There are indeed such things as we call mathematically random events. But there are also typical events and such considerations as dynamic symmetry and multi-dimensional compatibility. The enterprise is ultimate.


FEBRUARY 21st 2008
I really hate to be rushed, but I like to stay just a bit ahead of what the self-styled experts are prepared to commit themselves to in public, as the results of their peer-reviewed experiments and observations lead them to admit what I believe can be deduced without getting out of bed. This morning we had a better than usual discussion on Melvyn Bragg's IN OUR TIME on the Universe/Multiverse proposals, a discussion which came nearer to the facts than previously, admitting that in a multidimensions universe there is no need for many universes in space, or sequentially many 'bouncing' ones in our perceived time dimension, for nature to explore al the possible universes which are pointless because not only unconscious but internally incompatible. The term 'observable' universe is however still used when 90% of the universe is not observed except by the effect of its mass on the part we can observe - I do wish that was made clear in all hese discussions.

Then, on LEADING EDGE (BBC Radio 4) this evening
a report from the 2008 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science revealed that one Michael Meyer has been tracing the evolution of rocky planets around other stars in our galaxy. New evidence suggests that rocky planets like Earth may be far more common that has been thought up to now. I once attended a meeting of this August association in New Orleans at the end of the 1980s to address an audience on the extension of early Interet access to the Soviet Union and on that occasion met briefly with Tippet and Barrow (of Weak Anthropic Principle fame) round the bar. I put to them the proposition that Michael Meyer has now apparently collected the required observations to verify: my prediction that the likelyhood of any star like our sun having rocky inner plantes like earth was better than 50/50. My friends will know that a favourite expression of mine is 'It takes 25 years to get someone to prove the obvious, but it may get quicker'. Ths time it took just under 20 years. But I just wish I had typed all this yesterday before the broadcasts, as that would support another theory of mine....

I have to go and do something else now but I will just add (before someone claims to be the first to have discovered) it that given a sun of just our size it is slighlly more lkely than not that the mass of dust that collects in the orbit spanning the ecosphere will be such as to give a combined mass equal to that of our earth and moon. Furthermore it will be mathematically rather more likely than not that the final assembly will be of two large lumps, as I stated two days ago, giving rise to a moon that from the earth-like planet will have an apparent size similar to the sun. If that happens to be the case, the core will then be be iron and of the right mass to produce a magnetic field to protect the planet from radiation and so-called 'particles' which would make life as we know it impossible. It will go through phases like our planet, including the extinction of life  due to meteorites, asteroids and comtes and the seeding of life (which will be of both terrestrial influence). Every planet will be different, just trees are different, but life will evolve due to the same typical interactions.

There is much more to be said but that will do for now, I can't sit here and write a thousand pages and you would not read them if I did, The only pupose of writing this is to prevent your being conned by people pretending to have discovered anything new which wasn't obvious from studying the properties of basic geometry. It may be new to them but that's as far as the newness goes. The so called 'coupling constants' that scientists can't explain are self explanatory, but I will get to that later.

FEBRUARY 22nd 2008
Time to add today that once we have a planet with a core like Earth's, and a gravitation field of earth's strength, and a moon that a combination of forces will place at the distance our moon is, all of which have not been accidents but probabilities, then the typical processes will follow, but the variations will be just as interesting as the commonalities. No other earthlike planet will have a history exactly like ours any more than any two children have a similarl life, growth, adulthood, achievements. The successes and failures will be different. There will be many ways of exploring life, and so they will all be explored. At the planetary level, the Goldilocks Enigma is already nearly solved. It is clear that we are not looking at 'accidents' but a sequence of statisical probabilities in which the very materials, the dust and gas that forms the accretion disc, has within itself when of a certain size, a size quite likely to be achieved through regression to the mean, the physical and chemical properties to form a life-supporting system, and its own assembly mechanisms based on those physical and chemical properties. The Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio (discussed in the MATHEMATICS file on the website) are self-creating and along with obvious symmetries and the laws of thermodynamics and gravity are bound to harmonise the physical and chemical outcomes. We do not have to choose between accidental on the one hand and designed on the other. To find out the likelyhood of life as we know it on other planets, we need only to estimate the number of suns very like ours, in similar condtions, and divide by 2 to get the number of earth-like planets. It is unlikely to be much more, it could be a lot less, but it is still going to be a big number. SEE ENTRY OF DEC 1st 2010 !!!!!!!

Next, we must look at the basic philosophical tenets of geometry and see if our universe has a similar self-assembling charcteristic to produce the 'coupling constants' that make the universe we observe possible. We shall find that pure reason will lead us first to a multitude of space-times or an endless rebirth of bouncing space-times, and then away from both of these, using the principle of Occam's Razor, to a multidimensional universe with a conservation of information - it could be called a multiverse - that is perpetually self-refining and regenerating on a scale that is without end or beginning.

One year later.....
FEBRUARY 16th 2009
Here is a report that makes sense. Bear in mind that the 'billions of Earths will not all be 'just right' like Baby Bear's porridge (or porage). But the likelyhood of some of them having the same constituent materials, and a moon like ours, seas and tides, is very likely in a small number because, as I have tried to explain above, one result makes another more likely all along the chain of events, even if each is far from inevitable and can break the chain that would lead to life as we know it here generating spontaneously and leading to intelligent beings.

Galaxy has 'billions of Earths'

There could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, a US conference has heard.

Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Science said many of these worlds could be inhabited by simple lifeforms.

He was speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

So far, telescopes have been able to detect just over 300 planets outside our Solar System.

Very few of these would be capable of supporting life, however. Most are gas giants like our Jupiter, and many orbit so close to their parent stars that any microbes would have to survive roasting temperatures.

But, based on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one "Earth-like" planet.

This simple calculation means there would be huge numbers capable of supporting life.

"Not only are they probably habitable but they probably are also going to be inhabited," Dr Boss told BBC News. "But I think that most likely the nearby 'Earths' are going to be inhabited with things which are perhaps more common to what Earth was like three or four billion years ago." That means bacterial lifeforms.

Dr Boss estimates that Nasa's Kepler mission, due for launch in March, should begin finding some of these Earth-like planets within the next few years.

Recent work at Edinburgh University tried to quantify how many intelligent civilisations might be out there. The research suggested there could be thousands of them.

But remember, without a moon very like our own in relative size and distance, intelligent life is extremely unlikely on any planet. It needs not just seas, tides and plate tectonics but a stable axis which such a moon also provides throught its gravitational interaction. These things do not arrive together randomly. If there is one, more are likely. If two, three are almost certain. If three, 4 inevitable if the distance from the sun is right and as we have seen, this argument tends to become circular.

It will not be too long, I hope, before the Goldilocks Enigma will be seen not as a puzzle or a paradox but the amazing mechanism that ensures that far from being a random development without meaning, life and intelligent life emerge where, when and how it is appropriate. In other words, we are in with a chance. We can, by definition, make it through, simply because we have come this far already! We could also, here on Earth, in this attempt at a global civilzation, fail.

JANUARY 25th 2010
I must aplogise for being taken away from getting on with this file. I have had a lot to do and think about. I just want to discuss some recent comments by Martin Rees, the estimable Astronomer Royal. I have some issues with them.

Astronomers hopeful of alien find
By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

The chance of discovering life on other worlds is greater than ever, according to Britain's leading astronomer.

Lord Rees, the president of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal, said such a discovery would be a moment which would change humanity.

It would change our view of ourselves and our place in the cosmos, he said.

His comments come as scientists gather in London for an international conference to discuss the prospect of discovering extra-terrestrial life.

Scientists have been scanning the skies for radio broadcasts from intelligent life for 50 years, and so far they have only heard static.

But the chances of discovering life now were better than ever, Lord Rees said.

I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms that we can't conceive
Lord Rees, Royal Society president

He said: "Technology has advanced so that for the very first time we can actually have the realistic hope of detecting planets no bigger than the earth orbiting other stars.

"(We'll be able to learn) whether they have continents and oceans, learning what type of atmosphere they have.

"Although it is a long shot to be able to learn more about any life of them, then it's tremendous progress to be able to get some sort of image of another planet, rather like the earth orbiting another star."

The recent deployment of space telescopes capable of detecting earth-like planets around distant stars now make it possible to focus the search.

"Were we to find life, even the simplest life, elsewhere that would clearly be one of the great discoveries of the 21st Century.

"I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms that we can't conceive.

"And there could, of course, be forms of intelligence beyond human capacity, beyond as much as we are beyond a chimpanzee," he added.

Not reported in this transcript was what I heard him say on the radio - that we could know if we were alone in the universe, or not.

Certainly I agree that if we do detect intelligent life beyond our solar system it could change the views of some people of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. For others it may make little or no difference, either because they are not surprised or because they do not care either way. However there are some very important factors the Astronomer Royal ignores in his statement.

Our local galaxy, which we call the Milky Way, is 100,000 light-years in diameter. There are about 200,000,000,000 stars.There could be thousands of earth-like planets at the same stage as earth, with technology at the same level. We will never know by observing them unless they reached this stage more than 1,000 years ago unless they are very close to us - that is to say less than 1,000 light years or one hundredth of the galactic diameter. I mention this because Lord Rees said we could soon know if we were alone, or not alone, in the universe. While it is true that we might detect evidence of other intelligent life, it can never answer this question unless we find evidence of intelligent life on a very nearby planet.

When we receive a signal that is clearly indicative of intelligent life, it will only be from a very close neighbour and even then will not reveal that the sender's civilisation has not ceased to exist. So it may tell us we are not alone as a phenomenon, but we are still completely alone in the sense that most people would nderstand that word. If we were to reply to a message, it might be received 2,000 years after it had been sent. They might have difficulty locating the question to which we supplied the answer! This is for very close stars as a proportion of the stars in our galaxy. As for all the hundreds of millions of other galaxies, it is not through telescopes of any sort that we know that we can learn about intelligent signals or life. So we can never prove the non-existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.

Bear in mind that though the duration so far of humanity on earth is but a tiny fraction of the time the planet has existed, it has taken 3.8 of the 4.5 billion years to get to homo sapiens sapiens on a planet perfectly suited (in hindsight) to the evolutionary process. Note also that the earth is as more than a quarter of the age of the universe. Both these fact are mportant in an understanding of the limitations I have suggested on observations in the coming decades of answering any questions unless we get positive evidence of extra-terrestrail life. Not observing it tells us merely it is not extremely dense in its distribution or has emerged in a very much shorter time than it did here..

So what follows? Well, this: if we do detect actual signals from intelligent life, then the whole universe is likely to be crammeed full of it. It would mean all other functions of the universe are trivial compared to its intelligent life.

But if we detect nothing, that tells us nothing much at all. Intelligent life could be coming and going all over the place, in ourgalaxy and many othere. It could still be the highest and most important function of the universe, but once again we cannot tell from the observations Martin Rees is talking about. We can on the other hand do quite a lot to assess the probability of the number of planets where life could become intelligent and could now, previously or later exist. That is very useful and significant.

On the other hand, we may be able to answer all these questions in other ways, because we humans are intelligent - some more than others and with different types of intelligence - and together we form a super-intelligence much greater than that of any one man or woman.

I hope I will get around to explaining this before I pop my clogs. The difficulty is in finding the right words so that I am understood.

MARCH 20th 2010
Once again I must asked readers to excuse my idleness. I have just discovered Paul Davies has come out with another book which covers things we are discussing here. In addition I have just read a very helpful review in THE TIMES. So, with apologies to Prof Davies and the reviewer Christopher Hart and the the publishers of THE TIMES I am going to use the review as way to integrate their excellent work with the discussion here. This is a review of a review, if you like, but I am going to quote the entire review and insert comments in red so as not to avoid issues.

The Sunday Times review by Christopher Hart  - March 14th 2010 

The epigraph to Paul Davies’s mind-stretching book is a quote from Arthur C Clarke: “Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea is quite staggering.” This neatly encapsulates the whole business of the search for extraterrestrial life. Whatever the truth turns out to be, it will be awe-inspiring.

Davies is an excellent popular-science writer, as well as a physicist and cosmologist so eminent that he even has an asteroid named after him (formerly known as 1992OG). He is also chairman of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Post-Detection Taskgroup, which sounds like something out of Doctor Who, but is deadly serious. He is keenly aware of “the mismatch between the futility of the human condition and the brooding majesty of the cosmos”, and The Eerie Silence makes for a magnificent cosmic tour d’horizon of what we know, and what we might yet encounter out there, in the apparent emptiness of deep space.

[I trust that in the book itself the apparent mismatch is countered by an argument that there is, paradoxically, an extraordinary mathematical and possibly proportional systemic match in many ways between the structures of a human body and brain and the observable universe. If enlarged sufficiently, we are mostly space and the number of cells in our bodies are 'astronomical' as is pointed out two paras below. Furthemore, it is we who inagine and perform any brooding.]

Has the hunt for extraterrestrial life found anything yet? There has been confusion here. In 1996, Bill Clinton announced that Nasa had found life on Mars — but then Clinton claimed a number of things that turned out to be not strictly true. Life has not been found on other moons or planets yet, no. But almost all astrobiologists feel it’s only a matter of time. Water is far more common elsewhere than we thought. It’s even present on the moon, and there’s probably more water on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, than in all the earth’s oceans. And where there’s water, there’s life.

However, what most of us mean by ET is intelligent life. This is another kettle of fish altogether. Self-aware intelligence may just be a weird and rare aberration. Even on the home planet, life has always been and always will be, essentially, bacterial. Both you and I can reasonably be described as a flourishing bacterial colony, wrapped around with a thin layer of usefully protective human tissue. [A point that cannot be emphasised too often, but not with any a deprecatory or demeaning implication for human values.] You’re about 10 quadrillion human cells and 100 quadrillion bacterial cells: the kind of blackly comic revelation about ourselves that modern science throws up all the time.

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So when we do discover the first extraterrestrial life-form, it won’t be an eerie and thrilling close encounter of the third kind. It’ll be some amoeba on Europa, or a bit of blue-green algae on Titan. For all but the specialist, it might be rather a letdown.

The chances for intelligent life look very different. Davies entertainingly dismisses the encounters with aliens as reported by certain Americans, 40m of whom have seen UFOs. Most of these sightings, he explains politely, are probably Venus rising in the morning, which to the uninitiated might look like a gleaming flying saucer. Then there’s the regrettable “banality of the aliens’ putative agenda, which seems to consist of grubbing around in fields and meadows, chasing cows or aircraft or cars like bored teenagers, and abducting humans for Nazi-style experiments”.

“It could be that life is common, but intelligence is rare,” says Davies. And it may be rare not because it doesn’t evolve in the first place, but because when it does, it soon destroys itself. [This is an important consideration. Darwin and Cuvier (Evolution and Extiction theories) both rule in the science of evolutionary outcomes, just as, I maintain, Gamov-Einstein-Hubble and Fred Hoyle's theories on aspects of universal origins, once seen as contradictory, will be see as both alive and well when we have the multidimensional model.] Look at our own “intelligent civilisation”, currently making its own continuance unlikely not just through global warming, but in 1,001 other interesting and creative ways. Advanced civilisations may be so energy-greedy and inherently unstable, modifying the environment around them so violently, thinks Davies, that they inevitably collapse after only a few centuries. For us to communicate with another, therefore, the timing has to be right. Imagine a town of 100 houses, he suggests, but where each house only lights up for 10 seconds a night. To enable communication, two must light up simultaneously. The chances are virtually nil. [Davies is being too optimistic! Lighting up simultaneously will not achieve comunication when what we mean is knowing a signal has been received. The most we could hope for would be evidence of a transmission from a civilisation alive many, many years ago. 'Simultaneous' is not what we think in the universe of space-time relativity.]

Such a grim explanation would explain “the eerie silence” out there perfectly. Davies likens this to the obvious answer to Stephen Hawking’s famous question: Where are all the time travellers from the future? There aren’t any, points out Davies, because time travel into the past is not and never will be possible. Travel into the future might be ­feasible, as Einstein showed. But nothing in the laws of physics will allow for us going backwards. [Paradoxically time-travel to the past is exactly what we do have, whether we like it or not. The world we experience is entirely in the past. We see the Sun of 8 minutes ago, and to look further back in the past all we have to do is look. On our own planet, we have the records of the past all around us. As for travel into the future, you are doing it now. What we cannot do is visit the future by jumping out of the sequence of local thermodynamics except in our imagination, or visit the past in practicality (that means touching it). To touch something implies presence and then it is the present.  But since both these methods are available, why should we wish to confuse matters by trying to misapply them? Our sanity is logic dependent. I am not ruling out superluminary entanglement but that is for another day.]

Even allowing for the remote chance of alien intelligence, how do we know they won’t be just really unpleasant, like Douglas Adams’s thuggish Vogons, with their hideous personal habits and rubbish poetry? Should we really be trying to contact aliens at all, advertising our presence to the universe like wide-eyed, smiley children trying to make friends with a crocodile? [Good point, and here is the answer: if beings as stupid and unpleasant as the Vogons find themselves in charge of advanced technology, the evolutionary equations suggested by Darwin and Cuvier and should take care of them. If we happened to meet them before they had destroyed themselves or got lost in space we would indeed be astronomically unlucky!]

Another point is that any alien intelligence, no matter how advanced, could still only communicate at the speed of light. Aliens 1,000 light years away — in cosmic terms, virtually next door — would see earth as it was in AD1010, when we’d only just invented clockwork. If 10,000 years away, they would be just in time to catch a few enterprising Iraqis starting to grow wheat. Would they bother to make friends with such useless primitives?

This raises more humiliating possibilities. Perhaps plenty of alien civilisations are well aware of our existence, having monitored us for millennia. But they have yet to see any reason to call us up. They might find us sickeningly ugly, spectacularly stupid, dangerously violent, or just dull. [Even more likely, if they were at a more advanced stage than us they would know full well that we must solve our own problems. A truth I have tried with little success to point out in other contexts.]

Finally, Davies asks us to imagine what an alien intelligence might look like. Little green men with weedy legs, bug eyes and alopecia, no: ‘“post-biological intelligence” would long since have dispensed with the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Our alien visitor would be more like a self-designed supercomputer, immune to death and decay. Its thought processes, however, would still be limited by the speed of light. Even if it was a brain the size of a planet, says Davies, it would simultaneously be “dazzlingly brilliant but relatively slow-witted”. [Here I disagree totally with Davies. They are far more likely to be creatures who have reached a proper knowledge of the nature of sentient, fleshly existence and the way it renews itself and evolves. They would have a far more advanced understanding of death, of life as an individual and life as a community. I am not talking Borg, by the way, very far from it.]

And how would it spend its self-created eternity? “Some commentators have suggested that super-advanced intellects of this sort would spend most of their time proving ever more subtle mathematical theorems.” So there you are. Our long-awaited encounter with ET might be with a very clever but slow-witted quantum computer that spends its limitless aeons solving very complex Sudoku puzzles. [Yes, now you are getting to the point where you will begin to understand you are talking nonsense and I have proved to my satisfaction that whatever else creation is about, it is not nonsense. That is why I found HHGTTG such an important book. It is in exploring the nonsense that results from taking our simplistic ideas to logical conclusions that we can emerge from the womb.]

On the lookout

Astronomers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence have been scanning the skies for signals since April 1960, with only a few hoaxes and false alarms to show for it. So far they have checked on several thousand stars within 100 light years. Given that the universe* contains 400 billion stars spread over 100,000 light years, their lack of success is not so surprising. [*As was pointed out by an online reader of this review, Christopher Hart made a slip here. For 'universe' read 'our Milky Way galaxy'. The universe may contain 500 billion galaxies of such approximate size!

The answer to the question 'Are we Alone' is simple if by 'alone' we mean what we say when a person is alone as in "We die alone" by David Howarth. It is simple if what we mean is 'are we on our own here'? The answer is yes even if the whole universe is breeding human civilisations by the million. However,  the links with the universal past are not what people suppose, and the entanglements through what we call the past are not what people suppose. The very fabric of space-time which defines the values of inertial mass is past-dependent and, in a multidimensional universe, though that past is inaccessible in what we call practicality, reality and materiality, it's power is not necessarily so. The phenomenon of resonance which plays a vital role in communication at a distance, is not necessarily confined to conventional electrodynamics and thermodynamics or the conventional media. There are virtual possibilites. Our existence can make possible a greater existence. When we get an understanding of that, our worries about being alone may fall away. I guess I will have to actually read this book now just to see if Paul Davies has reached the same conclusion. Sounds as if not yet.... but nearly?]

The Eerie Silence: Are We Alone in the Universe? by Paul Davies
Allen Lane £20 pp255

MAY 29th 2010
Now here is a disappointing debate:

The Great Debate - Are We Alone? - Geoff Marcy and Dan Werthimer

Science Fiction portrays our Milky Way Galaxy as teeming with advanced civilizations engaged in interstellar communication, commerce, and occasionally star wars. If so, great Galactic societies anticipate offering membership to Earth. Back in our real universe, extraterrestrial life has proved elusive. None has been found. The arguments for and against technological life in the Galaxy have sharpened in recent years. Evidence abounds on Earth of the hardiness of life even in extremely harsh environments. Other evidence suggests the Earth may be a rare type of planet, unusually benign for life as we know it. Evidence on both sides is mounting. Which one is right? There can be only one answer: Either the Milky Way is teeming with technological life or it isn't.

    Renowned SETI scientist Dan Werthimer will debate planet-hunter and skeptic, Geoff Marcy.

I have to tell you that Geoff Marcy, the sceptic, makes more sense in some parts of this debate that Dan Werthimer, who rambles on a bit. But Marcy comes up with some really classic howlers. On the subject of evolution he says "If evolution favoured intelligence, dinosaurs would have become smarter, but they didn't." Taking it to the absurd he says over time flies would master alegebra, cats would play the piano. This reveals such a huge chasm in Marcy's understanding of evolution that I think we can ignore his judgment on everything else - not his knowledge of data, just his judgment. I suggest he studies the subject which is the Evolution of Life and the Origin of Species, a subject in which Darwin made some progress on which much more has been built, and Marcy is not even at Darwin's level. In fact he needs to start again from scratch in this discipline.

No, gentle reader, even the introduction to this debate which I have pasted in above in italics is confused when it says: There can be only one amswer: Either the Milky Way is teeming with technological life or it isn't. Our ideas on what this means are frankly crude, as we do not have a proper idea of the scale of events with which we are dealing. Marcy gets near to it in some ways but falls down in others as I have shown. Werthimer has useful things to say but gets lost in a cloud of possibilities. We fondly think of a galaxy teeming with life as we would as we 'teem' on this planet, eventually communicatng and even meeting in real time in such a way that each individual human being communicates like we are doing now at the very least, and at the other end of the scale by seeing and touching eac other,  and at all intermediate stages of being aware on an individual level - a level of choice in what we and who we see and hear. Given that it is quite difficult to have a sensible debate in the House of Commons or form a view on Global Warming amongst even educated people on Earth, imagine the problem of a civil servant faced with data on the galaxy or even one other planetary civilization on which to give advice on how to reply to a message from another world!

Earth is indeed a very special planet. Marcy claims to have worked out that if there are any planets with intelligent life and technology at our level within 100 light-years of us they could not fail to have found us; and we can say that this is not unreasonable. 100 light-years is next door. However, it is a wild assumption to limit the evolution of life in the galaxy, let alone the universe in which or galaxy is a speck, to the fulfilment of the desire present in the brains of individuals such as ourselves, and to the means of communication and travel that we imagine to be the method that Nature will explore to experience its being. Humans have a conscious experience of life both beyond and within ourselves and to explore the wider meaning of existence, but the assumption that the future of universal life is to proceed on the Star Trek level only is almost certainly as mistaken as it would be for termites to believe the future is for them to colonise the the entire planet.

It may well be that communication bteween life forms on different solar/stellar systems is not function favoured by chance or necessity.  It is also as well to realise that on the scale we need to think,  even if it were three dimensional which it most decidedly is not, there is no difference between chance-and-necessity and what some see as, and therefore call, intelligent design, for the simple reason that existence is a fact and before the monkey in any half-way infinite cage types Hamlet, it is no longer a monkey but a human called William Shakespeare.

Marcy asks why it took so long to get human life. It seems clear to me that if we had not had the age of the dinosuars and their environment for all the millions of years that we did, humans would not have had an appropriate planet to develop and reach this discussion on a web page. Now that makes no sense to those who think effect always follows a cause in a time system driven by thermodynamics. Somewhere there may well be a planet where there were dinosaurs in a perfect environment to produce a world for later humans but they were wiped out 50 million yerrs earlier, and the humans that arrived had to exdploit different assets. I am OK with that too. But as I ave endeavured to explain over 50 years the dynamical structure involves more than entropic thermodynamics. I am glad to see Brian Greene has made some steps to getting a grip on causal symmetry even though I have given him a bit of criticism in my review of Fabric of the Cosmos on Amazon UK. The philosophical truths in Shakespeare's plays were inevitable if basic Euclidean geometric concepts of the straight line and circle are true, as these also make the universe that we know, and a 'Shakespeare' to frame these truths, inevitable as the outcome of any energy, that is any existence, that emerges from singularity.

OCTOBER 30th 2010
I do not think it would be a universal disaster if we fail, here on this planet, to 'make it through'. But it sure as hell is our duty to try. Sensible people have been pointing out for 20 years that we have to prepare. Now, existing technology is such that we can. So let's just go to work on it. We are obsessed with individual death but appear to be oblivious to the only thig that matters: survival of the species and civilization.

DECEMBER 1st 2010

WASHINGTON – The universe may glitter with far more stars than even Carl Sagan imagined when he rhapsodized about billions upon billions. A new study suggests there are a mind-blowing 300 sextillion of them, or three times as many as scientists previously calculated. That is a 3 followed by 23 zeros. Or 3 trillion times 100 billion.
In SOTA (1985) I proposed that Earth's relationship to the universe should be perceived as that of a single cell to the human body. Now read the article at the link above. No matter how many, a proper understanding of the space-time continum leads to the conclusion that planets within a few thousand light light years are more likely to be seen to be at a stage suitable for life as we know it than those further away That is because the information we receive from far away will be from a universe at an earlier stage of evolution, greater energy levels and a more intermittently life-destructive environment.

DECEMBER 6th 2011
One year has passed and we have some significant news.
Kepler 22-b lies at a distance from its sun about 15% less than the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and its year takes about 290 days. However, its sun puts out about 25% less light, keeping the planet at its balmy temperature that would support the existence of liquid water.
The time may be approaching when we can start to gather some statistics. If these statistics reveal that stars not unlike our sun are not highly unlikely to have planets of a size not unlike earth at a distance that could give a water-sustaining temperature, we can then start to explore the likelyhood of them being made of similar materials. If there is a trend beyond chance that these values are interrelated, and that such a planet is likely to have an atmosphere, magnetosphere, ionosphere etc. then we will be on the way to confirming what I believe is mathematically self-evident: that basic geometric principles, given the creation of a dimensional pluraility and a primal energy, will result in life-as-we-know-it-Jim and all that will lead to through all the twists and turns of evolution. There is nothing accidental about life, or its variety, but neither is it predestined other than as an inevitability somewhere, sometime, somehow and therefore OFTEN. If you understand the concept of a space-time contiuuum you will see that means ALWAYS.

DECEMBER 6th 2011
A year has passed since my last entry. Last night I watched a programme on the subject of this file on BBC 4 TV:

The Search for Life: The Drake Equation

I was rather dreading it, fearing it would be stuck in some classic pitfalls. But no! It started by pretending to fall into them but then dug itself out in style. An excellent job. At the end Prof Drake himself and the presenter ran through the reasons why it was not surprising that even if the universe was teeming with intelligent life it was not surprising we had not yet picked up any signals here at this time from the directions we had pinpointed. However there is one more reason which they did not cover and which I have tried to hint at in the many entries above. I hope to deal with that further this week. Before that I must just make a remark on the unfortunate habit of commentators and presenters of astronomy of using the words Galaxy and Universe as if they were comparable or even the same. On any human pictorially representational scale, our galaxy in the universe is less than a pin-point and, as I have made clear elsewhere, the universe is multidimensional.